Jeff Croft

I’m a product designer in Seattle, WA. I recently worked at Simply Measured, and previously co-founded Lendle.

Some of my past clients include Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, and the University of Washington.

I’ve authored two books on web and interactive design and spoken at dozens of conferences around the world.

I’m currently accepting contract work and considering full-time opportunities.

Blog entry // 01.12.2004 // 4:42 PM // 48 Comments

WMA vs. AAC: The Truth

If you buy a digital music player, it will likely play a number of different file formats. Among these are probably MP3, WAV, and one of either WMA or AAC. If your player decodes AAC files, it is most certainly an iPod — the most popular and best digital music player out there. If it plays WMA files, it is probably an inferior player from the likes of Creative, Rio, Dell, or any of the other also-rans in the market.

Because nearly everything you read on this topic is slanted one way or the other, I’m going to try to provide an unbiased and factual frequently asked questions on this matter that is understandable by non-techies. Here goes nothing.

What’s the difference between WMA and AAC?

In terms of functionality, there is very little difference. Some audiophiles will tell you one format sounds better than the other, but for most people, the difference is indiscernible.

WMA stands for Windows Media Audio, and was developed by Microsoft. It is a proprietary format. In order for developers of software music players or portable music players to include support for WMA in their product, they must play a license fee to Microsoft. WMA is the format chosen by online music stores including Napster, Wal-mart, and Musicmatch. If you purchase a song from these stores, it will be in WMA format. Most digital music players sold today can play WMA files — the notable exception is Apple’s iPod, the most popular player on the market today (there are rumors that Apple may add WMA support to the iPod, but they are yet to be proven).

AAC stands for Advanced Audio Codec. It is an open standard developed by a committee that included Dobly Labs and AT&T Research. If you are a developer, it does not require a license fee to use in your software application or portable music player. AAC is based upon the same technology as MPEG-4. Apple has chosen a variant of AAC as the file format for their iTunes Music Store, which is far and away the most popular music store online at this time. Apple’s iTunes software and iPod player can play both standard AAC files as well as the variant of AAC provided by the iTunes Music Store (more on this variant later). Few, if any, other digital music players can handle AAC files.

What is a DRM?

DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, and is a generic term for a system built into a music file format that aides in preventing piracy. WMA includes an (optional) DRM system. Most WMA-supporting online music stores use this DRM. Apple developed a DRM system called Fairplay, which sets on top of the industry standard AAC format. Fairplay is used in files purchased form the iTunes Music Store.

Why the new file formats? What was wrong with good ol’ MP3?

Nothing is wrong with the MP3 format, and every digital music player sold today supports MP3 files — including the iPod. However, MP3 does not have a DRM option, and therefore record companies were very skeptical about releasing legal downloadable versions of their music in this format. Doing so would have only increased the level of MP3 piracy. For this reason, record companies did not jump onboard with online music sales until Fariplay and the Windows Media DRM became available.

It’s also worth noting that files saved as AACs or WMAs are typically smaller in size than an MP3 saved at the same bitrate — which means you fit more music on your device.

What are the arguments for and against choosing a WMA store, rather than iTunes (or another AAC store)?

The primary reason you’d choose a WMA store is that you will have more choice in portable music players and music playing software. The downside is that the best and most popular player, Apple’s iPod, will not be an option for you, as it does not currently support WMA. Additionaly, by choosing a WMA store, you are (in a sense) technologically wedding yourself to Microsoft — which, historically speaking, hasn’t been the best of ideas.

What are the arguments for and against choosing iTunes (or other AAC store) instead of a WMA store?

If you choose iTunes Music Store, it will likely be because you want to use the best jukebox software (Apple’s iTunes) and the best digital music player (Apple’s iPod). The downside will be less choice when it comes to jukebox software and music players, and also a “technological wedding” to Apple — but only for the moment (see the HP/Apple alliance and the new Real Jukebox for evidence that AAC is starting to branch out beyond Apple).

But isn’t AAC industry standard and WMA proprietary?

Yes, but this is very misleading. Apple fans will tell you that you should choose AAC because it’s an open standard. This is true. However, Fairplay — Apple’s DRM — is not part of that standard. Apple’s products (iTunes and iPod) play both the industry standard AAC (.m4a) files, as well as the Fairplay-enchanced AAC files (.m4p) sold on the iTunes Music Store. While it’s true that AAC is an open standard, the files sold at iTMS are only based on this standard — they do not fully comply with the standard, due to the addition of the Fariplay DRM.

What about the HP and Apple alliance?

HP recently licensed Apple’s iPod player and iTunes software in order to provide HP-branded versions to their customers. This is a huge boost for Apple and the AAC format. Many analysts predict that Apple will be making more deals like this one, and the result will be a day in which AAC and the Fairplay DRM are the de facto standard. Most consumer advocates like this idea, because AAC and Fariplay do not require license fees paid to Apple, and therefore do not marry you to one company, as WMA marries you to Microsoft.

So how do you decide?

Truthfully, I don’t know. The bottom line is that both Apple and Microsoft have their sights set on domination of this market. Until one or the other prevails or gives in, consumers will suffer. If Apple adds support for WMA to the iPod (as is rumored), there will finally be one player on the market that can play all major formats. Until then, you’re gambling. Gamble as you wish, but I’m betting that the current market leader will win in the end — and that is Apple.


  1. 001 // Brian Ford // 01.12.2004 // 6:38 PM

    Hey, small thing, i Know.. but you forgot to mention that AAC files are generally smaller in size and sound better than similarly compressed mp3 files.

    Anyway, good article. Not too biased (hehe) at all. Despite the fact that I AGREE with you, most popular doesn’t always equate best.

    Also (not that I give a damn) I notice you haven’t mentioned the football game from yesterday. Does it make you sad that the Chiefs lost? Would you like a hanky to blow your nose on?

    I’ll leave you with a quote. You may recognize it:

    Expect the Colts to, quite typically, make it to the playoffs and not much farther.”

    With accuracy like that, you should become an analyst and make predictions about Apple’s future as well.

  2. 002 // Jeff Croft // 01.12.2004 // 6:45 PM

    Ohh, how I love people who don’t give a damn about football but come out of the closet when my team loses.

    For the record, I made no real prediction about the Colts-Chiefs game. The two teams are mirror images of one another: incredible offenses and horrible defenses. I knew it would be a shootout and the team that had the ball last would win — and that’s exactly what happened.

    Also, given that the Colts are my second favorite team, it’s not as bad as it would have been if, say, the Broncos or Raiders had beaten us.

    As to your comment about AAC file size: I was comparing AAC and WMA, not AAC and MP3. Both AAC and WMA files are usually smaller than MP3s…so there’s really no advantage either way, there.

  3. 003 // James Paden // 01.12.2004 // 10:59 PM

    Ah…but the Colts made the Chief’s settle for field goals early and had the lead the whole game. I think the Colt’s defense (while lousy) did outplay the Chief’s defense (which was lousier). You also forgot the turnovers…the Chiefs had 1 turnover, I don’t think the Colts had any.

    Anyway, back on topic :-) You didn’t mention in your article that AAC and WMA were smaller than MP3, though you acknowledged that above. In your “why not mp3?” section, that would have been nice to say.

    As far as long-term predictions, I’m going to go with the WMA simply because Microsoft is behind it. I think their purse and staying power will keep it around and more of a force. But who knows, anything could happen and there’s probably room for two formats as long as everyone plays nice.

  4. 004 // Jeff Croft // 01.13.2004 // 9:22 AM


    Good points. I went ahead and added an note about AACs and WMAs being smaller than MP3s. Thanks for that.

    Here’s how I saw the Chiefs/Colts game from my upper-deck seats:

    Colts Offense: A+ (scored on every drive) Chiefs Offense: A- (scored on every drive, excepting one missed FG and one fumble) Colts Defense: D- (never forced a punt, but did get one turnover) Chiefs Defense: F (not one stop all day) Colts Special Teams: B (nothing spectacular, no mistakes) Chiefs Special Teams: A- (Datne return, missed FG)

    The Chiefs’ offense played a nearly perfect game. The problem was that the Colts’ offense did play a perfect game. The Colts’ defense played a awful game. The good news for them was that the Chiefs deffense played even worse.

    Ahh well…at least we get Vermeil for a couple more years and all of our noteworthy offensive players are under contract…

  5. 005 // Nathan C. Cartwright // 04.19.2004 // 5:24 PM

    A good article, though you seem to have left out any argument over price.

    A Creative Zen Xtra 40gb portable music player can be had for a online-street price of ~$275. Compare to the iPod at a street-price of ~$475.

    The Creative product is…about a cm larger on each side. Apple may have the best format, but at the moment they have a strangle-hold on it. I dare you to compare the Creative Xtra with the iPod and tell me it’s $200 less worthy. Heck, I like the sound quality on the creative product better, as well; I think it’s presumtous of you to catagorizably discredit all of the other portable music players as “inferior”.

    Of course, for the computer-savy lacking, Apple is a solid choice: money may not be worth the confusion of file formats, changing settings in iTunes for mp3, or the “hassle” of having 2 programs for music download and play.

    Still, this adds another dimension to the battle, at least - I am curious as to when creative, iRiver, rio, etc., will finally upgrade their bios’ to include mp4. It’s something I’m eagerly awaiting.

    *Note: Prices quoted from “semi-reputable” online retailers found from

  6. 006 // Jeff Croft // 04.19.2004 // 5:31 PM


    You make very good points. The only reason they were left out of my article was that the purpose of the article was to compare file formats, not hardware devices.

    I did say that others were “inferior,” and I do still believe that. However, that’s a matter of personal preference and it probably was presumptious of me to include that int he article.

    For the record, I don’t believe the Xtra 40GB was released yet when I wrote this (although I could definitely be wrong about that).

    Thanks for your comments!


  7. 007 // Ernie Mink // 06.20.2004 // 9:30 AM

    Additionally, by choosing a WMA store, you are (in a sense) technologically wedding yourself to Microsoft ‘? which, historically speaking, hasn’t been the best of ideas.” That is biased, and incorrect. Microsoft holds all the money, power, value and best operating system. You just have to know how to use good utility programs to help keep it running smoothly which is always going to be the case, since it is the BIGGEST and MOST POWERFUL operating system hands down. Also, just because the iPOD supports AAC does not mean that is why I would buy it. And actually I have used RealOne Rhapsody more than iTunes. Sure there is not a monthly fee with iTunes, but you can only stream 30 seconds of a song. Rhapsody has digital streaming on radio and all the songs you can burn. It is a much better service and I can hardly ever find what I want on iTunes. I have seen other portable players that are just as good and better than the iPod, like those from iRiver, which I own and are FAR better than the iPod and have more features. Remember this, Apple is no better than Microsoft in piracy and they did it FIRST before Bill Gates did it. But the truth is, I would not own an Apple operating system or Linux because they will NEVER do as much or hold as much support. Sorry, Charlie, but those are the facts and nothing you or anyone can do will ever change it. Microsoft will ALWAYS be on top. No matter what people try to do, say or how many groups you have. Have a nice day!:)

  8. 008 // Jeff Croft // 06.20.2004 // 10:09 AM

    Saddam Hussien had a lot of money and power, too.

  9. 009 // Fabian Vargas // 06.20.2004 // 2:49 PM

    Hey great work on your article, but i have a question on programs that would convert MWA to AAC format, bucause I just upgrated computers to an iBook with an iPod and i like to transfer all my music from my PC to the Mac. thank u. and good job again

  10. 010 // Ted Wood // 06.20.2004 // 5:26 PM

    Fabian - iTunes for Windows will convert your [unprotected] WMA files to AAC automatically when you install it, or you can do it manually at any time.

    Ernie - you make some strong arguments, but unfortunately, many of us Mac users have just as much experience using a PC, since we quite often have to at work, school, etc. and Apple’s OS X definitely takes the cake. That isn’t a biased observation.. that’s a fact. Give OS X a try and you will see how wrong you are.

  11. 011 // Carter Clive // 07.02.2004 // 2:03 PM

    Good, useful and helpful article. I agree with you that linking oneself technologically with M$ is not a great idea.

    Ironically, several of the reasons why you are correct were alluded to by your bombastic poster Ernie Mink (above).

    Ernie, who seems to want to subsitute ALL CAPS for argument, inadvertently let slip the truth:

    Money and power by themselves do not necessarily a good technology make. M$ prove this. Why have they so little to show for their massive R&D spend?

    Mr Mink admitted that in order to keep a M$ operating system running smoothly, you need a good knowledge of utility programs: (a) who wants to do this and (b) isn’t this something of an indictment of the basic technology?)

    [M$] is the BIGGEST operating system”: yes, it suffers from such code bloat that the 20 million lines of code (!) that were in Windows 2000 become ever harder to maintain, de-bug, develop and keep secure. And the code-bloat is worsening with each new version. Can’t they code effienciently?

    M$ have not always been “on top” Perhaps young Ernie is too dull or too young to even remember IBM, which existed for about three quarters of a century before Gates’ software came out on the Billy Boxes. M$ will not always be “on top”: no Robber Baron ever maintained control of his fiefdom forever, though the Beast will be around for a while yet, to be sure. How well does Ernie think M$ will do in the 3rd world (i.e. where the numbers growth is going to be) in the next 10 years compared with Linux?!

    [Although the DoJ let off the Beast with a rap over the knucles with a feather, the public isn’t completely stupid and will have taken note of some of the tactics that Gates and his gang have been up to.]

    As the former Chairman of IBM once said of Microsoft: “… great marketing company; but not a great technology company!” Couldn’t have put it better myself.

    Ted Wood (above) is spot on about OS X - if Ernie could set aside his closed mind long enough to try out the world’s most advanced OS, he wouldn’t be so quick to leap to the defend the Beast!

  12. 012 // Shane // 07.09.2004 // 3:37 AM

    I don’t listen to posts that refer to Microsoft as M$.

    Great article on WMA vs AAC. I think if you own an iPos, then use AAC just for ease of use. AAC vs WMA quality is so close it’s not worth worrying about. Just think about this, “How long will it take to drag music onto my portable device?”. If it’s an iPod, then AAC are native so it’s the fastest way. If you have a Creative device, then use mp3 or WMA. I wouldn’t worry about the openness of a format, because Apple and Microsoft will be around far longer than you or I will be. So it’s not like you’re going to wake up one day and all your music will be locked out because Microsoft has barred access to its proprietry format. ;)

    As for Apple vs Microsoft, why argue it? They are both very good. I develop for both and both have their positives and negatives.

    I love Apple, always have, but I also love using Microsoft tools and technology. The .NET platform and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET are fantastic.

    Personally I think the competition between the two is great. All I ever think about is the end user, not the tech, and both suit them/me well.


  13. 013 // Laurent // 09.29.2004 // 4:05 AM

    AAC stands for Advanced Audio Codec. It is an open standard developed by a committee that included Dobly Labs and AT&T Research. If you are a developer, it does not require a license fee to use in your software application or portable music player.”

    Oh ! This is not correct ! A standard does not mean it is free since there is a lot of patents associated with AAC. For more information, look at which is the office in charge of granting AAC licences or at for more general information about license problems. In fact, one of the Microsoft’s argument for using WMA instead of AAC is the license fees ! (cf…)

    Regards, Laurent

  14. 014 // Rusty // 10.18.2005 // 1:45 PM

    I used to think before that microsoft (and yahoo! music) was greedy for not providing support for AAC and iPods, but it is really Apple who is greedy (they dont want to lose money on itunes so they dont allow music from other services to be used on their product). This really pisses me off. Do you know of anyway to convert the Yahoo! subscription music files to MP3 or AAC while bypassing the license?

  15. 015 // Jeff Croft // 10.18.2005 // 2:03 PM


    Actually, they’re both greedy. Microsoft isn’t providing support for iPods and Apple isn’t providing support for Microsoft-based devices. Can’t blame either one more than the other, can you?

    No, I don’t know of any way to convert Yahoo! Subscription WMAs to another format, and if I did, I wouldn’t tell you. You’re renting your music from Yahoo! — it expires when you stop paying. If you’d paid to buy the song, then I might have a different opinion. But you’ve chosen to rent, and so rent you shall do.

  16. 016 // Bill Carol // 01.26.2006 // 8:46 PM


    Love both formats but just wanted to ask…when iTunes converts my unprotected wma to aac do you mean aac conversion will be permanent..I use both file formats but have only one data base…will windows media play the converted files?

    Great thread…


  17. 017 // Darkside // 07.19.2006 // 2:25 PM

    Interesting article, as we saw in England with the VHS vs Betamax video format war in the eighties, it isnt the best format which wins, it’s the best marketed - therefore, I predict an apple victory!

    You can convert WMA files to AAC files through iTunes - any idea how much sound quality, if any, you lose through this?

  18. 018 // Paul Dodd // 09.15.2006 // 12:24 PM

    Unbiased? Hardly. You sound like a contingent of apple’s advertising agency.

    iPod ‘? the most popular and best digital music player out there”
    “inferior player from the likes of Creative, Rio, Dell, or any of the other[s]”
    “the best and most popular player, Apple’s iPod”
    “the best jukebox software (Apple’s iTunes) and the best digital music player (Apple’s iPod)”

    That’s fanboy talk if I have ever heard it. Why not back up your statements with…oh, I don’t know…anything? You could at leasts say something like, “I like the iPod the best because it is more aesthetically pleasing and more compact than its market competitors and I am not overly concerned with functionality or price” or “I like iPod the best because I haven’t actually checked out the other players available on the market at this time, but instead chose to just go with Apple because I like Apple.”

    I was also particularly surprised by the fact that in a post called “WMA vs. AAC: The Truth” you made absolutely no mention of quality or technical differences other than “In terms of functionality, there is very little difference.” This tells the general user that wants more information a grand total of nothing. So…thank you for your nothing.

    I only say this because you purported this post to be the truth, when instead I read an uninforming advertisement for Apple products and ventures. Please do not call these postings something they clearly are not.

    Sincerely, Paul Dodd

  19. 019 // Peter Breis // 01.17.2007 // 8:49 AM

    It’s also worth noting that files saved as AACs or WMAs are typically smaller in size than an MP3 saved at the same bitrate — which means you fit more music on your device.”

    This is not true at all. All files saved at the same bitrate will be similar in size. The AAC file is in fact 2-3% larger than same bitrate MP3 files due to the spectral band replication data used to enhance its upper frequencies.

    What was meant I think is that files saved at the same QUALITY are typically smaller, a quite different claim.

    Recent tests do show the gap as closing and depending on the type of music the AAC format may in some cases be actually inferior to Ogg Vorbis and some of the other formats. Generally though WMA does come bottom of the ladder.

  20. 020 // Jeff Croft // 01.17.2007 // 9 AM


    That may well be correct. You sound like you know what you’re talking about, so I’m not going to argue with you. You’ll note that I wrote this article almost exactly three years ago, and it was certainly the line of thinking at the time that AACs were smaller than MP3s. If that’s not accurate anymore, I apologize.

  21. 021 // BobTurbo // 04.15.2007 // 12:03 AM

    That is a hilariously biased arcticle.

    You fail to mention that using AAC gives you much much less choice (rather than just “less choice”) than using WMA in terms of hardware you can play it on, you do not give any reason why iTunes or iPods are better than the others (they certainly are not), and you completely downplay the lock-in to Apple despite them not even letting your run OS X on other hardware and not letting you play iTunes purchased songs on anything but an iPod without converting to audio CD (and adding a PROPRIETARY DRM to the files rather than a DRM scheme that anyone can access). While at the same time you emphasis the lock-in to Microsoft formats without any substantiation. Also you do not mention that WMP is more stable and performant on Windows compared to iTunes which has been historically plagued with problems. You also do not mention that WMA can go from lossy to lossless all in the one format.

    There is no point in writing your article if you are so biased.

  22. 022 // Absinthe // 04.30.2007 // 12:17 AM


    How does AAC give “much less choice” than WMA when no free, multiplatform encoders exist for WMA? Oops, serious hole in your argument there.

    Moreover, native, open-source codecs exist for AAC on every platform including Windows, and it is an open specification.

    I think the only obvious bias in this page of article + comments are yours.

    The facts speak for themselves if you choose to recognize them.

  23. 023 // BobTurbo // 05.07.2007 // 11:53 PM


    AAC gives the consumer much less choice and it is obvious.

    Your argument has a flaw in it because 95% of computers are running Windows (for encoding), and much more hardware supports WMA playback. There are also many more online stores that use WMA.

    I am relatively unbiased. I prefer Macs to Windows PCs for starters. I prefer iTunes to WMP, but not on Windows. Also, I would not go near compressed audio to begin with, so I don’t even care which is better. Compressed audio is horrible. That should be the conclusion :)

  24. 024 // Jeff Croft // 05.08.2007 // 12:34 AM


    You’re missing a really important point. Yes, if you go with WMA, you have more choice. You can choose any of about 10,000 MP3 players. But how many MP3 players do you need? Do you need 10,000? Do you even need 100? Do you even need 10?

    No, you probably just need one. One really good one — like the iPod.

    You don’t need more choices — you need good choices. ACC offers less choices, but it offers the right choices — the ones people really want.

  25. 025 // BobTurbo // 05.08.2007 // 6:21 AM

    I agree Jeff, but a lot of people already have existing hardware, eg car audio, that they want to use. And there is more assurance that any new hardware that comes out will support WMA rather than AAC. That is not an issue if the best hardware coming out has AAC support, but that is not always the case.

  26. 026 // BobTurbo // 05.08.2007 // 6:26 AM

    Actually I just checked and a lot of good car audio players support AAC now, so I guess it is only relevant to those people who already have existing hardware and don’t want to go buy something else.

  27. 027 // BobTurbo // 05.08.2007 // 6:47 AM

    Ahh but just checking the car websites and some cars don’t support AAC with their integrated CD players. So that validates my point, as I don’t even know how you can replace the integrated ones with your own.

  28. 028 // Bruce Wagner // 07.26.2007 // 1:55 PM

    We have two new iPhones – which are apparently the same as an iPod for music and video…

    We notice that the new iTunes software offers to automatically CONVERT any WMA files you have… into AAC format…

    (So that might be the next best thing to playing the WMA files… It just CONVERTS them… within the iTunes software… into AAC format.)

    If given the option to download music or audio for free… Would we be better off downloading MP3, WMA, ACC, or other format…? In what order of preference…?

  29. 029 // David // 08.14.2007 // 7:56 PM

    You say the iPod is the best music player? That’s rather amusing.

    A. You must use Apple’s iTunes software to manage your iPod. iTunes is a very limiting media player, even moreso than WMP. The iPod’s internal filesystem is managed in such a way that there is no practical way to navigate it without using the iTunes software.

    B. iPod’s are overpriced, and the lack of an expandable media slot just means that when you run out of space, the Apple tax hits you again.

    C. iTunes media library manager is inferior to WMP’s. Neither is perfect, but WMP 11’s is a significantly more advanced and offers much greater organization capabilities. I’ve yet to find any other media player which can compete with WMP in terms of library capabilities, and I’ve tried most of them.

    D. In terms of audio quality… AAC is inferior to MP3, WMA, and OGG especially in situations where there is a human speech at low (128 kbps) bitrates. AAC also gets very distorted in high frequencies at bitrates of 128 kbps and below.

    E. What about the iPod makes it better in your eyes? The interface is fairly klutzy and not very powerful. Just because it’s popular doesn’t make it the best.

    F. I think the conclusion is… that if you use Lossless, it doesn’t matter what you choose since it’s all mathematically perfect.

  30. 030 // Alessandro // 12.07.2007 // 11:58 AM

    I think that the High Efficency profile of AAC really rocks. It sounds great at even 64 kbps and encoders/decoders are avaliable for all platforms :-)

  31. 031 // Shane // 04.02.2008 // 5:28 PM

    For trying to be unbiased you sure to try pump up Apple and their Ipod. Just because it is the most popular doesnt mean that it is by far the best. I have had both an Ipod and a Creative Zen and the Zen was by far a better and more user friendly player.

  32. 032 // Peter Berg // 05.16.2008 // 7:38 AM

    You’re WAAAAAAAAAAAAY mislead if you actually believe iPod is NOT the best music player. First of all, iTunes sucks BIGTIME because of continuous crashing and few options.


    This is only a tiny bit of all the things that suck about iPod.

    And one more thing: No matter what format the music that the song is encoded in, you can convert it to whatever you want with free and legal software. (Even with DRM or Fairplay)

    Cheers ;)

  33. 033 // Peter Berg // 05.16.2008 // 7:41 AM


  34. 034 // lance // 07.19.2008 // 4:27 PM

    zune is the best

  35. 035 // Evan Jones // 09.07.2008 // 9:18 PM

    Love the passion you guys have!

    Often the more powerful/featured a system is the more complex it gets to operate which often takes away from the enjoyment of use.

    can we all agree, A good product (The best) is the one that gives the most enjoyment to the user. Not the most features, the most powerful or the more compatible. and frankly thats what you will pay for if you appreciate good product. even $200 more.

    If you have an AAC or WMA type device the format is but a small issue that anyone can workaround. The manufacturers of each device family have made sure of that.

    What is the best? some times its as subtle as how it feels in your hand. In my personal view Apples just seem to be more enjoyable to use.

    After 20 years of owning various computers inc Commodores/ IBM clones etc I got my first apple a year ago ( Mac Book Pro) following on from my overwhelming impression of my Ipod. WOW what a device!!! within 3 months I also changed the computer at home to an apple.
    Apple products are just a joy to use. Format is irrelevant.
    Next stop,,, IPhone 3G, Bring it on! :-)

  36. 036 // Zune // 09.12.2008 // 2:52 PM

    any1 realise that zune plays aac files aswell as wma, while ipod still just aac. the war is over, its just a matter of time before the forbidden apple gets eaten by gates.

  37. 037 // Evan Jones // 09.21.2008 // 9:44 PM

    In the portable music player market thats like saying David will EAT Goliath.

    I think Apples biggest headache is that it does not allow BT 2.0 wireless Audio devices because they want everything to go via their proprietary dock ( Which they make money off) they need to be careful as this retrogrades the experience compared to devices that have this facility.

    Format is irrelevant as it was when we argued about details Beta cam vs VHS. Media format technicalities have never been the deciding factor of who survives and who perishes. IMO :-)

  38. 038 // Enrico // 10.12.2008 // 2:24 AM

    I very much appreciate your article, only one point is wrong. AAC quality is absolutely better than WMA at any bitrate. In particular WMA standard suffers of a typical annoying metallic distorsion which I can clearly recognise even if I don’t know the file extension. Many indipendent listening tests have proven this. AAC and OGG are the best codecs, WMA standard is the worst in its category, sometimes worse than MP3. WMA professional works much better, comparable to AAC and OGG, but it is not used for purchased tracks and the players you mentioned are not able to play it.

    See hydrogen audio for details.


  39. 039 // Ryan Johnson // 10.15.2008 // 10:15 PM

    I’ve compared several selections of music that I have both in WMA and in AAC. AAC trumps the WMAs, but the WMAs were ripped at 128kbps, and their quality rivaled that of the AACs, which were ripped at 320kbps. (I cannot get original CDs for these tracks. They were NOT transcoded from one to the other, but both ripped from the same original source.) The only part that didn’t quite line up was the texture of some of the sounds: The WMAs liked to make every aspect a bit wiry and metallic, which clearly was not the case with AAC.

    AAC is a standard, and Microsoft HAS already included it in their repertoire of things that make ZUNE SOO MUCH BETTER than the ipod. Your opinion that the iPod is “the most popular and best digital music player out there” is so ignobly wrong that you should post a new article to extract the truth from this one. You haven’t tested the Zune audio decoders and its raw audio driver. iPod noticeably lacks the accuracy and processing speed needed for an audiophile.

    I do have a question: when they say “AAC” (meaning LC-AAC) is supported by the Zune, do they mean the raw AAC, using the extension .aac or do they mean the mpeg4-encased crap (.m4a or .mp4)? I like the .aac extension. It is nice and clearly unbiased, whereas the m4a is extremely bloated in terms of unnecessary flags and miscellaneous info inside the file. Having wrappers for files is a very bad idea in my opinion. However, the Zune designers may have discarded any decision to include a handler for the .aac extension–even though it’s the same data stream as a .m4a

    GO AAC

  40. 040 // Jay Smih // 01.27.2009 // 11:56 PM

    Sonny MP3 player support both AAC and WMA format.

  41. 041 // Robert Jones // 03.05.2009 // 2:19 PM

    Yeah, minor (or is it) point, iPods actually produce pretty poor sound quality when compared with the competition (especially when taking the price into consideration) - calling them ‘the best’ is presumptuous and, if you ask many people (including me), wrong.

  42. 042 // Endi Q. // 05.01.2009 // 11:06 AM

    This articles is clear and helpful in clarifying the differences between the formats. There is one major flaw though… the obvious way in which the ipod is praised. I understand that you have a personal preference for the Ipod, but that is no reason to blatantly claim that is is the best player in the world. Also that if somewones was to prefer iTunes then that would mean they’re aiming to get the best player available.

    Despite the fact that the hardware is not the purpose of this piece, you still manage to strongly impose your opinion on your preferred device. Just for the hell of it, in what way is Apple’s Ipod superior to competition (let’s say Sony Walkman, Microsoft Zune or Iriver’s player’s)? and does its hardware justify its higher price?

  43. 043 // Jackie // 06.10.2009 // 5:43 AM

    I didnt know anything about these files until I saw this site. Don’t really care which one is better. I just don’t understand why you cant convert either way. And with technology these days why hasnt someone figured it out so that we have choice?

    Anyway, thanks for the great thread I now know how it works and will have to stick with my WMV files for now or the dreaded time taken to burn them on again so I can use the popular ipod I got for Christmas.

    could copy my friends over but that would be illegal. Cant win either way!

  44. 044 // Renwick // 09.15.2009 // 7:25 AM

    Wow! All I can say is that Jeff, you really started some shit here, boy! And, I’m glad…some of us novices get to come away a little less “dull” as one commenter put it!

    I’d have to agree, though…you did sound a tad bias in your piece. I’ve always earned a living using a “Billy Box” but Macs are cool. I prefer an MP3 player, though!

    Great thread!

  45. 045 // self shot cam // 09.26.2009 // 1:18 AM

    Your article let me know more, thank you very much for sharing the article you want to see more meaningful things, thank you.

  46. 046 // Bob Loblaw // 11.19.2009 // 4:54 PM

    Apparently you don’t actually know what bitrate is - the claim that some audio formats are smaller than others at the same bitrate is quite amusing if you do. The bitrate is exactly that - the rate of bits. It is the number of bits each second of audio takes up. If 2 audio files of the same length have the same bitrate obviously they will be the same size.

    I notice Peter Breis already attempted to set you straight on this, although not quite clearly enough, so that you still seemed to come off thinking that it was a matter of opinion - yes, AAC and WMA sound better than MP3 at lower bitrates, so they can have the same quality but smaller filesize (because they have lower bitrates), but at the same bitrate they will of course be the same size. Your mistake is in thinking bitrate is just another word for quality.

    Considering your misunderstanding of such a fundamental element of audio formats, it seems unlikely to me that you are any kind of audio expert, so the value of any article you might write on the subject is debateable. I came here because your article ranks highly on google for the term WMA vs AAC, and I was looking for a definitive judgement on which of the two provides the better audio quality at the same bitrate. My search goes on. It would probably be best for all of us if you stuck to subjects you actually are an expert on, instead of being misguiding.

  47. 047 // Todd Smith // 01.27.2010 // 5:23 AM

    Just got an ipod touch(30GB) recently after years of using an Archos and Creative Zen. I had everything in WMP and.wma format loaded on the Archos(30GB) and Creative(5GB). I have about 20 gb in wma files in the WMP. I let the iTunes convert the wma files to aac and lo and behold it says I have 40GB of music files. Why did the iTunes convert it to larger files? There seems to be no reason for this to happen in my thinking? Is there a way to have it convert at the same size? I would like to have all my music available, not just some…


  48. 048 // bandsxbands // 02.02.2010 // 10:13 AM

    My friend and I were recently talking about the ubiquitousness of technology in our daily lives. Reading this post makes me think back to that debate we had, and just how inseparable from electronics we have all become.
    I don’t mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside… I just hope that as memory gets less expensive, the possibility of copying our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It’s a fantasy that I daydream about almost every day.
    (Posted on Nintendo DS running R4 DS ComP)

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